Mindfulness, Psychotherapy, And Self-Help For Managing Anxiety

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated October 13, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in the US, affecting more than 40 million adults annually. However, despite their prevalence, many people may not know how to cope with symptoms. Anxiety is a highly treatable condition, and many people find success in managing anxiety and regulating emotions through mindfulness techniques, psychotherapy techniques, or self-help practices. Consider these areas as you develop your routine for managing anxiety.

Could Anxiety Symptoms Be Preventing You From Being Your Best?

What Does It Mean To Manage Anxiety?

Anxiety can involve intense fear due to its relationship with the fight-or-flight response, which is controlled by the nervous system. Many people associate fight-or-flight with dangerous scenarios like fighting off a predator. However, you may find that people, events, and places frighten you as much as physically dangerous scenarios. 

People often experience fear when they face a situation that is out of their control or when fear of harm occurs. In many cases, it can feel as though you don’t have the ability to hide or fight back against daily stressors. Avoiding fear can also impose limitations on your life which may be unhealthy. Therefore, it can be helpful to have coping strategies to use when anxiety occurs.

Mindfulness For Anxiety 

Mindfulness meditation is based on ancient spiritual and Buddhist principles involving a change in mindset. It can also be used in therapy. One program, created by Jon Kabat Zinn called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, was developed on the premises of mindfulness through the teachings of Buddhist leaders like Thich Nhat Hanh and Philip Kapleau. This program helped clients decrease their stress, manage pain, and reduce anxiety. Since the normalization of mindfulness in mental health, the practice has been extensively studied. 

Mindfulness encompasses a number of concepts and can have different meanings for different people. For some, mindfulness may mean being fully present in each moment. Some forms of mindfulness involve having the self-awareness to notice what's happening within you while also observing what's happening around you. Acquiring the benefits of mindfulness can also require you to pay attention to what you do, say, and express by observing your thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations. For example, you might be practicing mindfulness if you focus on breathing to calm yourself during the day. 

Many people involve mindfulness in their daily routine to reduce anxiety and stress levels in the long term. As you progress, you may practice it several times or for an extended time each day. Recent research suggests that mindfulness can be used to train your brain and change its physical makeup over time as you continue practicing.

Although mindfulness is not a type of psychology, psychologists may use mindfulness-based interventions to promote relaxation, acceptance, and peacefulness. If you talk to a counselor about your anxiety, they may teach you how to practice mindfulness. If you're unsure how to start, your therapist may lead you through mindfulness practices in your session.

How Does Mindfulness Work?

You can learn mindfulness from any number of sources, including training programs like the one available from Massachusetts medical school UMass Chan. You can also come up with your own form of mindfulness, as it doesn’t necessarily have to be a complex practice.  Consider the following steps to practice mindfulness in various situations in life. 

Choose A Time And Place 

Think of a place where you can relax safely for a short time. Ensure it is a comfortable place without many distractions. Some mindfulness activities can also be done on the go if you have a few minutes during your break at work or while you go for a walk. 

Notice The Present Moment 

Mindfulness can start by noticing one’s internal states, specifically those relating to your five senses. What do you hear, see, smell, touch, or taste? Then, notice the physical feelings within your body, like any pain, numbness, or a growling stomach. Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings as you notice them, and allow them to pass when ready.


Reduce Judgment 

Try to let the thoughts you observe pass through your mind without judging them. Notice them but don't try to categorize them or draw conclusions about them. 

Allow Your Mind To Wander 

Often, the goal of mindful living is to stay in the present moment. It may be natural for the mind to wander into thoughts of the past or future. Show yourself compassion and try not to be a perfectionist about how you "should be" practicing. Just get back to mindfulness as gently as possible.

Mindfulness can help you throughout your day, even if you only have a moment to practice it. When the phone rings or before you rush to work, stop, breathe, and notice the present moment first. You can also set a timer on your phone to remind you to pause and be mindful at a specific minute every day.


There are many strategies you can use to reduce your anxiety and increase self-compassion. Start by taking care of your physical health. You may naturally decrease your anxiety when you've had the right amount of healthy food, water, exercise, and sleep.

While publications like Psychology Today may offer self-help tips, it's often better to consult a therapist. Your therapist can teach you several psychological techniques that may allow you to reduce stress and anxiety. One example is thought-stopping. At times, fears get more significant when you dwell on them. The thought might repeat in your brain, building anxiety and harming your well-being with every repetition. Thought-stopping is a way of breaking out of that fearful rut.

Psychological Support For Anxiety 

Because anxiety is a mental illness, there are many psychological treatments you can try for treatment. Studies have found over 400 types of therapy available, so if one doesn't work for you, try another type. 

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy therapists use for many mental health conditions and symptoms. This type of therapy often follows a step-by-step process that includes the following:

  • Noticing feelings and thoughts
  • Identifying the thoughts behind the feelings
  • Challenging those underlying thoughts
  • Choosing whether to keep or let go of those thoughts
  • Replacing unhelpful thoughts with helpful thoughts
  • Changing behaviors to match new helpful thoughts

CBT may be beneficial for anxiety because fears often start with thoughts. Objects, events, and people may seem terrifying, even if they don't look dangerous or present an actual threat. The fear and resulting anxiety arise in your thoughts about the situation, so it may make sense to change your thoughts to reduce your fear. Mindfulness based cognitive therapy can be especially helpful, since it adds the benefit of mindfulness based stress reduction techniques.

As your therapist guides you through CBT, you may realize you can gain control  of your mind and choose your thoughts. You can also learn other coping skills and techniques to try at home through this type of counseling, which help you have more satisfying relationships, as well as a more balanced schedule and home life. In addition to traditional CBT, there are also variations like dialectical behavior therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, and exposure therapy. Exposure therapy in particular has been shown to be an effective treatment for anxiety disorders. 

Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy is a type of therapy often recommended to those with anxiety disorders. In this type of therapy, you gradually face your fears over time. In safe and monitored sessions with your therapist, you can repeatedly show yourself that exposure to your worst fears may not lead to the disastrous consequences you might believe. 

Often, exposure therapy is done in person. However, new avenues are opening for this method. Clients may also be able to use virtual reality (VR) programs on a computer or augmented reality through an AR headset.

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
Could Anxiety Symptoms Be Preventing You From Being Your Best?

Alternative Counseling Options 

Research suggests that psychotherapy is generally more effective at treating anxiety than medication. If you're ready to start treatment to help you manage your anxiety, consider online therapy.

Online therapy may have many benefits for people with anxiety. For example, you don't have to worry about finding a local therapist, commuting to the office, or being put on a waitlist. With online therapy, you can be matched with an available therapist to get started immediately. Many people also find it easier to talk about complex subjects from home with the safe distance of a screen. 

Research shows that online therapy is effective. One review found that online CBT led to a 50% improvement in symptoms of multiple anxiety disorders, including panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder, as well as depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. If you're ready to get started, consider contacting a counselor through a platform like BetterHelp, where you can meet with a therapist within 48 hours of signing up. 


Mindfulness, therapy, and self-care are a few ways you may reduce anxiety and feel in control of your difficult emotions and thoughts. Partaking in all three on a schedule may offer even more benefits. If you want to learn how to combine these coping strategies, consider contacting a therapist in your area or online for further guidance.

Explore mental health options online

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet Started